Levels of Teaching within the Catholic Church

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1 Levels of Teaching within the Catholic Church Prepared by the St. Thomas Aquinas Center for Apologetics Oblates and Missioners of St. Michael Definition of Infallibility of Teachings There are three ways a doctrine can be made infallible. 1. by an ex cathedra proclamation of the Pope 2. by a proclamation made by an Ecumenical Council of Bishops in union with the Pope 3. by the ordinary magisterium of a doctrine continually affirmed and taught by the Church over the centuries. In order for a doctrine to be eligible for infallible status it must be 1. an issue of faith and morals 2. an issue that applies to the whole Church, the universal Church, and not just a portion of the Church 3. intended by the legislator to be infallible when it is defined and proclaimed. The legislator being either the Pope speaking ex cathedra or an Ecumenical Council of Bishops making an infallible proclamation ratified by the Pope. In the case of infallibility by the ordinary magisterium, the doctrine must have been taught from the beginning and affirmed through the ages as a part of the deposit of faith Issues made infallible an ex cathedra are the two Marian Doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. Some observers, including myself, would suggest that the Saint Pope John Paul document on women ordination is also an ex cathedra statement. It has all the elements required for such. But other observers claim that the document was not infallible in itself. Frankly, it doesn t matter as the woman ordination issues is already infallible by the ordinary magisterium. Issues that have been made infallible by an Ecumenical Council of Bishops include the Doctrine of Infallibility itself, canon of scripture, the elements of the apostle s creed, etc. Issues made infallible by the ordinary magisterium include teachings such as the sinfulness of prostitution, contraception, other sexual issues, woman s ordination, etc. Concerning Levels of Teaching With the new provisions promulgated by Ad Tuendam Fidem there are now four levels of doctrines that is, four levels of doctrine that are to be believed according to the degree of certitude with which they are taught. Level 1 Teaching is that which has be Divinely Revealed in the Word of God, written or handed down, and that has been solemnly judged as divinely revealed truths.

2 This judgment is made by: 1. ex cathedra proclamations of the Roman Pontiff; 2. infallible proclamations of an Ecumenical Council of Bishops, and ratified by the Pope; 3. infallibly proposed by the ordinary Magisterium. This level of teaching must be believed by all the Faithful. Anyone who denies these teachings, or who obstinately doubts these teachings, is in heresy and thereby automatically excommunicated. Examples of Level 1 teaching required for belief by all the Faithful include: the articles of faith of the Creed, the various Christological dogmas, the various Marian dogmas, the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace, the doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrificial nature of the Eucharistic celebration, the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ, the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff, the doctrine on the existence of original sin, the doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul, the immediate recompense after death, the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts, the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption of Mary. Canon Law on Level 1 Teaching Canon 750 1: All that is contained in the written word of God or in tradition, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church and also proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal magisterium, must be believed with divine and catholic faith; it is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore, all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatever which are contrary to these truths. Canon 751: Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him. Level 2 teaching is that which has been Definitively Proposed by the Church on faith and morals. These teachings are necessary for living and expounding the deposit of faith. This level of teaching does not need to be formally revealed by the Magisterium but are teachings that could be formally defined if prudence warrants. This level of teaching requires a firm and definitive assent of the faithful. Whoever denies Level 2 teachings ceases to be in full communion with the Catholic Church. Denial of Level 2 teaching does not rise to the level of heresy, but could be considered a sort-of "heresy-junior" in

3 that since the person is no longer in communion with the Church, he would be barred from receiving the Sacraments. Examples of Level 2 teaching include: a) [from historical necessity] the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff, the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations... b) [from logical necessity] the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff prior to Vatican I's definition, the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men, the doctrine on the illicitness of euthanasia (Evangelium Vitae), the teaching on the illicitness of prostitution, the teaching on the illicitness of fornication. Canon Law on Level 2 Teaching Canon 750 2: Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who rejects those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Level 3 Teaching is that teaching from the authentic Ordinary Magisterium presented to the faithful as true, or at least sure, even if not defined by solemn judgment or proposed as definitive. Level 3 teaching requires the Religious submission of will and intellect from the Faithful. Examples of Level 3 Teaching include: teachings set forth by the "authentic ordinary Magisterium in a non-definitive way, which require degrees of adherence differentiated according to the mind and the will manifested; this is shown especially by the nature of the documents, by the frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or by the tenor of the verbal expression" (Vatican II, Lumen gentium 25) Canon Law on Level 3 Teaching Canon 752: A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate on faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim it with a definitive act; therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching. Religious respect of intellect and will means that the Church is to be given the presumption that it knows what it is doing. The teaching authority of the Church is to be given the presumption that its teaching is true and of good judgment. Thus, the faithful are to submit their

4 intellect and will to this teaching. Although these matters may not be infallible, we cannot just disagree. There must be a compelling reason to disagree. The benefit of doubt must be given to the Church. The presumption must go to the Church unless overwhelming evidence beyond any reasonable doubt suggests that the Church is wrong. In other words, we are not to backseat drive and if we disagree we better have darn good evidence to suggest the Church is wrong. The burden is on us to prove our assertions Regardless of which these three levels of doctrines we are talking about, the common denominator is obedience. Level 4 Teaching are the teachings and interpretations of the faith, in union with the Pope, of individual bishops or conference of bishops. Examples of Level 4 teaching include, for example, the statement from the U.S. Conference of Bishops on capital punishment or on Reiki, or a local bishop's teachings on matters of the faith, such as on issues of public policy, Catholic politicians who support abortion, etc. Canon Law on Level 4 Teaching Canon 753: Although they do not enjoy infallible teaching authority, the bishops in communion with the head and members of the college, whether as individuals or gathered in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the faithful entrusted to their care; the faithful must adhere to the authentic teaching of their own bishops with a religious assent of soul. In other words, we are to give religious respect and obedience to our bishops when they perform authentic teaching of the faith. If we disagree, it must be for good cause and it must be respectful. Canon 754: All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrees which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and proscribe erroneous opinions; this is especially true of the constitutions and decrees issued by the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops. Here we see that we must also obey the official opinions of the Church concerning doctrine, faith, and morals. A Fifth Level of teaching is that of non-doctrinal disciplines. These are the rules, regulations, and norms promulgated for the good of the Church, ecclesiastical discipline, and for good order. Examples of this 5th level of these non-doctrinal disciplines include the celibacy of priests, altar girls, communion in the hand, specific rubrics of the Liturgy of the Mass, nondoctrinal canon laws, which Holy Days of Obligation are moved to Sunday, etc.

5 Regardless of the level of teaching the common denominator is that we are to listen to our sacred pastors on issues of faith and morals, whether they be issues of doctrine or issues of discipline, and we are to respect their teaching and obey all that we are bound to obey according to the degree of certitude with which they are taught. Unless there is compelling evidence of wrongful teaching we are to give assent to the teaching of our pastors. The following canons show various ways in which we are bound to obedience Canon 11: Merely ecclesiastical laws bind those baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and who enjoy the sufficient use of reason and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, have complete seven years of age. Canon 12 1: All persons for whom universal laws were passed are bound by them everywhere. Canon 205: Those baptized are fully in communion with the Catholic Church on this earth who are joined with Christ in its visible structure by the bonds of profession of faith, of the sacraments and of ecclesiastical governance. Canon 209 1: The Christian faithful are bound by an obligation, even to their own patterns of activity, always to maintain communion with the Church. Canon 209 2: They are to fulfill with great diligence the duties which they owe to the universal Church and to the particular church to which they belong according to the prescriptions of law. What does that mean? Well, it means that the pope said we are not to debate the subject of women priests because the Church has infallibly taught that women cannot be priest. We believe and obey. It means that if the Church promulgates a new liturgy, we obey, though we may respectfully offer critique. If the Church allows the option of altar girls, we accept it, though we may disagree. Dissent in the terms of disrespectful or presumptuous activism is never appropriate. The follow Canons may bring this into better focus. I also offer the commentary from the Canon Law Society of America in relation to these canons Canon 212 1: The Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors, as representatives of Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or determine as leaders of the Church. Commentary from Canon Law Society on Canon 212 1: (1) Such a responsibility (obedience) implies a right, as paragraphs two and three indicate; it also implied an obligation on the part of church authorities to consult the faithful before pronouncing on matters of doctrine or establishing church discipline. "Presbyterorum Ordininis" 9, given as a source for the canon

6 in "Lex Ecclesiae Fundamentalis", calls on priests to listen freely to lay persons, considering their experience and competencies, so that together they may seek to read the signs of the times. It also calls on priests to test, recognize, and encourage the charisms that lay people receive. But this in turn implies mutual cooperation between lay people and priests....canon 212 contains three basic qualifiers as the object of obedience. (1) It must be something that comes from the "sacred pastors". This term refers to bishops, including the pope. Obedience is owed to what they intend as specially binding in virtue of their role as representatives of Christ. Not included are personal opinions or matters in which genuine freedom exists within the Catholic communion (see c209.1). To act as Christ's representative is to act with the full responsibility of office (cc. 331, 375) and so too, in keeping with the character of that office, as the source and center of unity in the Church (LG 23). (2) Obedience is owed to that the pastors declare as teachers of the faith. Various degrees of assent are specified in canons depending on the qualification of what is taught by the ecclesiastical magisterium. The obedience specified in canon relates to the kind of teaching dealt with in canons and not to personal opinion or particular theories that are not included in magisterial teaching. The purpose of Christian obedience is to imitate Christ in dedication to the truth; hence, the object of that obedience is truth -- not the authority of the one teaching it -- just as faith primarily relates to the object of what is believed and not merely to its expression. (3) Obedience is also due to what the pastors determine as leaders of the Church. In one sense this is also an obedience of faith, for the Church is a community of faith. Yet in disciplinary matters the truths of faith are not always directly involved whereas the common good is. Since all are bound to promote the common good (c ), it follows that obedience in disciplinary matters is required in the Church. Again, Christian obedience is directed toward what is for the common good and not merely to the authority of the one decreeing something. Can someone dissent from what the sacred pastors declare or determine? If obedience is in imitation of Christ, then it recognizes that the magisterium is subject to revelation and church governance is meant for the welfare of persons, not vice versa. Dissent on these grounds is possible, but it is to be within the context of one's responsibility to participate in the interaction of pastors and faithful discussed above.

7 However, the faithful have a right to make know their needs Canon 212 2: The Christian faithful are free to make know their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desire to the pastors of the Church. Commentary from Canon Law Society on Canon 212 2: The conciliar source makes a significant statement about the attitude with which such petitioning is to take place. It is to be done with that freedom and confidence that befit children of God and brothers in Christ (LG37). This implies mutual respect and openness on both parts rather than an adversary situation or one of mutual distrust. Experience indicates that all parties have a responsibility for setting the proper tone in such exchanges. Canon 212 3: In accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence which they possess, they have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to other Christian faithful, with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons. Commentary from Canon Law Society on Canon 212 3: The Council emphasized the personal spirit with which one should express opinions as always "in truth, in courage, and in prudence," whereas the Code focuses on external considerations of "integrity of the faith and morals." But, while the faithful owe obedience according to the norms above, the faithful have a right to expect the faith to be taught the way it is supposed to be taught and the liturgy done the way it is supposed to be performed. Canon 213: The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments. Canon 214: The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescriptions of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church, and to follow their own form of spiritual life consonant with the teaching of the Church. Commentary from Canon Law Society: The Catholic Church has known a great variety of spiritual movements throughout its history. Many of these have traditionally been associated with religious communities and even today constitute a vital dimension of Catholic Life. Other forms of spirituality, adapted to varying conditions of time and place, are also evident in the many movements, associations, and personal styles of Catholics. All of these are available for free choice by Catholics; no one spirituality is preferred over the others provided each is in keeping with Catholic teaching.

8 This can pose a problem at the parochial level. Various types of spirituality seek different forms of public expression. Not all are compatible, at least not at the same time and in the same place....on the other hand, provided good order is maintained and nothing is done contrary to church teaching, people are entitled to develop and to participate in spiritual movements of their choice. It is contrary to the right guaranteed in this canon to prohibit a given form of spirituality or to require that only certain ones be observed by people in a given locality. Religious freedom applies within the Church as well as in society, and this it its most visible application. Revised: May 3, 2017

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